The walkway was off 123rd Street, not Broadway, as my mind’s eye had it. The path led downhill toward an area with benches. Then there were two winding stairways, and I wondered, did my three- then four-year-old walk down these steps? Did I wheel her in the stroller and carry it down the steps?But down at the bottom, there was the play area, fenced in, the entryway, now lined with open coat cubbies and wooden stoves, sink, cabinets for the kids to play with. By the door was a stroller parking lot. Yes, it still exists, though now the plaque hanging above the entry says it’s the Children’s Learning Center of Morningside Heights, no longer the Gardens at Morningside Gardens.
It started as a nursery school in the early 1960s; one of the founders lived in our apartment building. When my daughter went there in the mid-1970s, the Gardens was unusual in the city in that it was neither wholly private nor wholly public: some parents paid full fee, as though it was a private school, while others were subsidized through city, state, or federal funds; it was multicultural before that was a touchstone. A story I wrote for the Village Voice in August 1976 noted that this was the least expensive way to provide child care in New York City. But most day care then in the city was completely paid for either by government funds or by parents. An ad-hoc coalition proposed that the centers funded by the city change over to this mixed service to save money. But this didn’t happen, partly because the city agency would no longer have control over a line-item budget, but also because there was corruption in the awarding of day-care leases. It seems from the Children’s Learning Center Web site that it is completely private now, though a limited number of children receive tuition assistance. Too bad.
From the presence of strollers and jackets, it was clear there were children inside, but it was too quiet. Perhaps it was nap time. And I wish I’d had one of my camera devices. I’ll have to go by there again to add a photo.
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